From lab to Lake Victoria, Kenya: a student learning experience...by Kelsey Ferris
Kelsey standing on floating Tilapia cages on Lake Victoria, Kenya.
My name is Kelsey Ferris, a Biotechnology student from the University of Waikato, New Zealand. I am half way through my one-year placement with the British Geological Survey, working in the Inorganic Geochemistry Laboratories in Keyworth, Nottingham.
I have been supporting Dr Andy Marriott in his project - Aquaculture: Pathway to food security in Kenya, looking at the link between anthropogenic pollution in Lake Victoria and the geochemical content in caged and wild fish, sediments and lake water. We are investigating the impact this has on health and nutritional quality of aquaculture farmed fish, and the potential of aquaculture to strengthen food security and sustainability for the region. My main role as an analyst in this project is to test the total mercury content of sediments and wild and caged fish tissue, and the water quality parameters taken from key locations in the Winam Gulf of Lake Victoria.
Andy and I partnered with Dr Tracey Coffey from the School of Veterinary Science (University of Nottingham), Professor Odipo Osano from the School of Environmental Sciences (University of Eldoret) and key stakeholders in Kenya’s aquaculture industry, including an excellent research team from the Kenyan Marine Fisheries Research Institution (KMFRI) led by Dr Chris Aura and local aquaculture cage owners.
I was lucky enough to be a part of the fieldwork aspect of the project, and have recently returned from a 10 day trip to Kenya for sampling. We spent 3 days and nights on the largest tropical lake in the world, surrounded by locals in their traditional canoes and floating plant islands which are home to monitor lizards, birds and even hippos. Whilst on board the KMFRI research vessel R.V. Uvumbuzi, we conducted transects of Lake Victoria to be sampled for waters, sediments, and wild and caged Tilapia.
Visual examination of the waters highlighted possible causes of pollution into the lake indicated by their colouration, which ranged from a vivid green (algal blooms) close to the city of Kisumu and also Siaya County (where intensive cage culture was observed), brown water rich in particulates throughout Winam Gulf, and clear water as we entered the main Lake Victoria basin. This trend was consistent with the strong H2S aroma from sediment samples, an early indication of possible eutrophic conditions due to human interactions. One of my tasks was collecting and filtering water for elemental analysis by ICP-MS and anions by Ion Chromatography in the Inorganic Geochemistry labs, so it was a relief to enter the clear waters so that my thumb could have a rest from the filtering.
From L-R: The RV Uvumbuzi crew, KMFRI researchers with Kelsey preparing to collect water and fish samples;
Assisting in the subsampling of caged Tilapia fish tissue.
As a placement student I have travelled all the way from the University of Waikato to work at The British Geological Survey, and have now had the chance to do fieldwork on Lake Victoria and at the University of Eldoret. The student programme that BGS offers is extremely beneficial because of the combination of routine analytical testing and hands-on fieldwork, which contributes to important real-world research projects. My placement has been very valuable to my studies, allowing me to apply my theoretical knowledge into a practical work environment, and strengthen my initiative and drive to contribute to the scientific community. From wearing a lab coat to a life jacket, you never know where a science degree may take you!